This morning I came across an article published by a religious group in which working with self-esteem was portrayed as dangerous, not only to religious beliefs but to reality-based decision making. After moving past my own defensiveness and professional slant, I do see how it could be misused and misinterpreted that way, but I also see a danger in NOT focusing on self-esteem. As a strong proponent of valuing oneself and others, especially in the workplace, I find that people with a low sense of self worth rarely are truly connected to anything, even spirituality or religion. They can pose as believers, of course, but they will not have the character to truly stand behind their beliefs of any sort.
A few years ago, I attended an event in Monterrey of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and it struck me that, no matter the specific religion represented, the deepest thinkers on the subject seemed very much at peace with themselves. They sought a spiritual connection with their creator by prayer, ritual and other religious practices, yet they were also deeply in touch with who they were and the impact they could have on others. Self-esteem was not banned from their vocabulary or demeanor and they valued others deeply, too, whether they were a part of their own tradition or not.
In the context of work, the same is true. Devoid of self-awareness and esteem, leaders begin to think they possess the only truth possible, becoming set in their ways, resistant to change and just plain difficult to work with. (See: Are you Easy to Work With?). It is through self-reflection and acceptance that it becomes possible and natural to collaborate, innovate, move to productive action. If anything, self-deception and disconnection from oneself is the real danger.
To put the subject into perspective from the point of view of the Human Element body of work which I have been a part of for the past twenty years, here is a video of Ethan Schutz explaining the misconception that self-esteem focus will generate self-centeredness and disconnection from others as well as productivity.
Download video: Ogg format
So what do you think? Is self-esteem the enemy?